The Boks are set to face their sternest physical and mental challenge of the year when they take on England at Twickenham this Saturday, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
What can this Springbok side offer up? It’s been a miserable year to date, littered with disappointing results and lacklustre performances that have left Allister Coetzee fighting to reassure the public that the Boks have not lost their once widely feared aura.
Another loss this Saturday would not be unexpected, but it would signify the Boks’ first defeat to England since 2006.
From there, even if the Boks could muster wins over Italy and Wales, it wouldn’t count for much. Ultimately, this upcoming clash provides one final opportunity for the Boks to make a statement of intent, put a marker in the sand, and say: ‘This is what we stand for.'
And while the Boks do boast an impressive recent record at Twickenham, they’re set to come up against a very different England beast.
Under Eddie Jones, England have been transformed from World Cup flops into the second-best side in world rugby. When Jones took over from Stuart Lancaster, he spoke of the need for England to rediscover their swagger, and they did just that with almost immediate effect.
During the June series against Australia, Jones won the battle of verbal warfare off the pitch, while his side emphatically put the Wallabies to the sword on the field.
Again, the England taskmaster is likely to engage in some mind games this week. Months ago, he insisted that England would not be bullied by a Bok side that offered little more than brute strength.
Jones’s recurring messages are likely to aim to tempt South Africa into playing a game that detracts from their traditional strengths of forward physicality and to test their fragile psyche around the aspects of skills and attack.
In preparation for the physical battle against the Boks, Jones also put his squad through a gruelling pre-season camp that left players bloodied and bruised.
Ultimately, it actually added to a lengthy injury list that has weakened the England squad, but make no mistake, they will be up for this battle against the Boks.
The question now is whether South Africa will have the capacity to match what is thrown at them on Saturday. Up to this point, the signs are far from positive.
If the Boks are to have any chance, they have to be prepared for the psychological warfare that Jones will engage in. He outwitted the Bok group while in charge of Japan at last year’s World Cup, and he will ensure England are supremely prepared to combat the South African strengths.
In response, Coetzee has to prove that he has the tactical and technical nous to ensure a battling Bok team can somehow find a way to punch above their weight.
Selections have to reflect a plan for the Boks to re-establish their physical dominance, while embracing a style of play that makes the most of strengths such as the driving lineout.
In the media, the Boks are being written off. In the England camp, there’s no doubt Jones will be revving up his charges for a Test that he will steadfastly believe his side can comfortably win.
Yet, in a year that has largely become an embarrassment for the Boks, there is now an opportunity for them to restore long lost pride.
The first steps on any sort of road to redemption simply have to be taken at Twickenham this Saturday.
Photo: Steve Bardens/RFU